The new Hingham destination is best known for its Executive Chef Paul Wahlberg, older brother to actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg. But, at least to me, this doesn’t seem entirely fair. Chef Wahlberg’s command of Italian cuisine is more than worthy of recognition independently. His restaurant impressed thanks to modern design, an outstanding location, and of course, a sophisticated and well executed menu.
By Christopher Snow – Photographed by Jazz Martin
We arrived to an entirely packed house, even on this Thursday evening. Taking advantage of the restaurant’s prime harborside real estate, orange rays gently beamed into the open-concept dining and bar area. Fine masonry flanked walls of cream and grey. Despite the floor plan, the dining room was able to retain its intimacy, thanks to minimal artificial lighting. Ambient music however, was anything but minimal. While not quite nightclub levels, the music is loud enough to notice. It’s contemporary meets classic, and in this case the two jive well. Yet all this was outdone by the gorgeous outdoor wrap-around patio, enclosed by sheet glass walls and featuring two glass and stone fire pits for outdoor dining or cocktails.
Our leading antipasti was a salumi platter of cured Italian meats. Each was robust and distinctive from one another, served alongside accoutrements like fine olives and cheeses. This platter changes almost everyday according to either the whims of Chef Wahlberg or the individual requests of patrons. Complimenting the salumi, Alma Nove’s well done beet salad arrived next. Numerous varieties in an array of colors populated the dish, causing each bite to range unpredictably from tart to sweet. Adding to the sweetness was a delicious blood orange vinaigrette drizzled atop the root vegetables, and finally a bit of goat cheese for textural variety.
Of the starting dishes, our favorites were the homemade cod cakes and the wild boar confit. Wahlberg’s cod cakes were among the best I’ve yet encountered – crispy outside, moist inside, and served with a bit of black olive oil and drawn butter dipping sauce. The cakes were devoid of breadcrumb filler, instead relying only on the outside pan-sear to heighten the fish’s flavor. At the other end of the animal kingdom, the wild boar dish was intensely flavorful thanks to the fat-rich firing method and a thick, dark plum glaze. Soft strozzapreti pasta is intertwined with the tender meat, and finally garnished with bits of guanciale, Italian bacon cut from the cheek or jowl.
Looking around between courses, the wait staff hustled, but wasn’t flustered. Nearby diners reported their servers were friendly, attentive and fast. During the downtime, Chef Wahlberg took the opportunity to explain the philosophy of his cooking to us.
“The kiss of death for many restaurants,” he said, “is you have to be able to constantly reinvent yourself, but without alienating the regulars.” A veteran of food service since his first catering job at age 16, Wahlberg has worked his way through plenty of diverse kitchens. “At the same time,” he said, “a great restaurant needs staples for people to crave. A customer should never say ‘that restaurant was great, but there’s nothing specific I’d go back for.’”
Thankfully, next up was one such dish: the Italian “paella.” Not a true paella of Spanish origins, but actually a shellfish risotto infused with saffron. Wisely, the strong spice was restricted to a subtlety, leaving room on the palette for creamed littleneck clams and seared shrimp, as well as the rice itself. This risotto, an easy-to-learn but hard-to-master class of Italian cuisine, was entirely successful in Wahlberg’s hands.
Equally competent were the chef’s treatments of fish filet entrées. Alma Nove’s Atlantic salmon was cooked perfectly and nicely crisped on top. Biting into the dark pink meat revealed welcome hints of citrus and cilantro, and a pickled radish made for a unique garnish. Wahlberg’s swordfish also stood out. He allowed the thick, wood grilled steak to stand almost entirely on its own, with minimal dress and just enough spice outside. But first-timers take notice: this meat rests atop the coveted lobster mashed potatoes, quite literally the best take on this mainstay I’ve ever sampled. If swordfish isn’t your thing, the lobster mashed can still be yours as an inexpensive side dish.
Finally, the favorite of the evening: grilled veal tenderloin. The meat arrived perfectly tender, flavorful and, again, prepared simply. Alongside, black truffle ravioli coated in foie gras butter. Traditionally, Wahlberg tells me, this type of ravioli is served with white cranberry, but he opted to let the savory elements dominate. The result is an absolutely delicious creation and the one I’ll be returning for.
Desserts were traditional. We sampled the carrot cake first, which was moist and fluffy on the inside, however the smooth butter cream sauce stole the show. The chocolate sour cream cake was even better. Thick both in size and consistency, the dessert traded flour for flavor, resulting in a dark chocolate indulgence closer to fudge than cake.
Alma Nove is located at 22 Shipyard Drive in Hingham, MA at the shore of the recently overhauled Hingham Shipyard. Antipasti and salads range from $7-13, while pastas and main courses top out at $29. Desserts are all $6.50 and sides are all $5, except for the spectacular lobster mashed potatoes, which will run you two bucks more. Interestingly, the name Alma Nove is derived from the family matriarch Alma Wahlberg and her nine (“nove,” in Italian) children.
Between Chef Wahlberg’s culinary precision, awareness of the customer’s thought process, and his wait staff’s effectiveness, it’s clear that—despite the celebrity link—the diner plays the starring role at Alma Nove. Still, Chef Wahlberg admits whenever his brothers are in town, they make a point to stop in. So if you’ve got a bit of paparazzi in you, Alma Nove makes a nice spot to camp out, and enjoy a top quality meal while you’re at it.